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What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World Paperback – Oct 2 2007
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“Chomsky criticizes those journalists and public intellectuals who, in reporting and commenting on events, do not question the assumptions under which the country acts and have framed the debate so that only the details are fodder for discussion. Chomsky's points are challenging.” ―Library Journal
About the Author
Noam Chomsky is the author of numerous bestselling political works, including Hegemony or Survival, Failed States, Imperial Ambitions and What We Say Goes. A professor of linguistics and philosophy at MIT, he is widely credited with having revolutionized modern linguistics. He lives outside Boston, Massachusetts.
David Barsamian, director of the award-winning and widely syndicated Alternative Radio, is the winner of the Lannan Foundation's 2006 Cultural Freedom Fellowship and the ACLU's Upton Sinclair Award for independent journalism. Barsamian lives in Boulder, Colorado.See all Product Description
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Chomsky is actually starting to win over the balanced middle with his common sense. I have long respected him, but it took Dick Cheney and his merry band of nakedly amoral and obliviously delusional henchmen to really bring home to America how much his straight talk and logical thinking can help us.
There is virtually no repetition from past works. This series of interviews took place in 2006 and early 2007, and I found a great deal here worth noting.
* In 70 New York Times editorials on Iraq, not once did they mention international law or the United Nations Charter. He uses this and several other examples to show how pallid, how myopic, how unprofessional our mainstream media has become.
* A wonderful section talks about how civil *obedience* of immoral and illegal orders is our biggest challenge in this era, and I agree. The "failure of generalship" in the Pentagon resulted from a well-meaning but profoundly misdirected confusion of loyalty to the civilian chain of command, however lunatic, with the integrity that each of our senior swore to the Constitution and to We the People in their Oath of Office.
* His knowledge of Lebanon, a country I have come to love as representative of all that is good in the Middle East, is most helpful. His many remarks, all documented, make it clear that Israel has been abducting people for decades, and that the Lebanese have quite properly come to equate US "freedom" with the "kiss of death." I am especially impressed with his discussion of Hezbollah as having legitimacy based on providing social services to those ignored by past governments, and as having a significant strategic value to Iran as a flank on Israel. His observations on how the US consistently refuses to recognize honest elections that do not go as the policymakers (not the US public) wish, are valid.
* He reminds us that the US made an enormous strategic mistake in using Saudi Arabian extremist Islam as a counterpoint to Nasser's natural Arab nationalism. As Robert Baer puts it, we see no evil and slept with the devil like a common whore lusting for oil.
* His comments on China and the Shi'ites who sit on most of the reserves (including Saudi reserves in one corner of that country, are provocative. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the USA needs to cede the oil to China and execute a Manhattan Project to leverage solar power from space, tidal power, air power, and--for storage--hydrogen power made with renewable resources.
* Chomsky's comments on Chavez track with my own understanding. Chavez is a serious and well-off revolutionary who is sharing energy with his Latin American brethren, and leading the independence of Latin America from the overbearing and often hypocritical and predatory US government and US multinational corporations.
* He offers compelling thoughts on how India is sacrificing hundreds of thousands of poor rural people who now commit suicide or migrate to cities after losing their lands, for the sake of the high technology investments. I wonder why India is not doing more to teach the poor "one cell call at a time."
* His observations on US electoral fraud are brilliant. He points out that the fact that elections are stolen is much less important than the fact that the entire electoral process in the US is fraudulent, without substance, only posturing and platitudes.
* He discusses how the US public is completely divorced from the policy choices of the dual tyranny of the US (political) government and the US corporate sector.
* At every turn Chomsky offers common sense observations, for instance, Pakistan, not Iran, is vastly more likely to leak nuclear capabilities to jihadists. In passing, he points out that it was the US that gave the Shah of Iran an entire MIT nuclear program and substantive assistance that is now being harvested by Iran, in 1975. Kissinger, Cheney,Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz as well as Gerald Ford are mentioned by name.
* He observes that Israeli influence is vastly larger than the lobbying effort, because the entire US intellectual network has "bought into" the Israeli myths and lies. The American fascists (see American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America), the Christian fundamentalists, are actually anti-Semitic, but support Israel because of their belief in the apocalypse.
* The Internet is having a pernicious effect on dialog and debate and compromise, because it creates little cul-de-sacs for lunatics of like mind to find and reinforce one another, divorced from larger realities.
* Avian flu (and our lack of preparation for it) is vastly more dangerous than a nuclear event. (See my review of the DVD Pandemic).
* Missile "defense" is actually code for allowing a first strike by the US on Russia or China, as a means to moderating their counter-strike. This is the first time I have heard it put this way, and I agree. All Americans should oppose "missile defense."
* State secrecy is about keeping our own citizens ignorant of the crimes being done "in our name" not about keeping secrets from the enemies we a re covertly screwing over time and again.
* Darfur is being dumbed down, at the same time that the *millions* being genocided in the Congo are being ignored.
* He ends on two good notes. Like Thomas Jefferson (A Nation's best defense is an educated citizenry") he says that "educating the American people is the main thing to be done," and love of the people is fundamental.
Great book, completely fresh and absolutely worth reading for the mainstream that might have in the past written Chomsky off as a perennial leftist, which he is not. Chomsky is what we must all seek to be: an educated engaged citizen.
Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency
The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11
Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (The American Empire Project)
Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions
State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III
Why We Fight
In addition to his dozens of books and countless articles in magazines like Z Magazine, Chomsky is being heard on C-SPAN and through grassroots media efforts like Justice Vision, Alternative Tentacles, Radio Free Maine and David Barsamian's "Alternative Radio" (which airs on over 100 community, public and college radio stations in the U.S., Canada and beyond).
Some tools of the right-wing will charge Chomsky with being "anti-American," but Chomsky is actually carrying on the proud radical tradition of this country that was earlier exemplified by people like Henry David Thoreau, Jane Addams, Mark Twain, Frederick Douglass, Mother Jones, Malcolm X and many others. Moreover, much of Chomsky's criticisms are directed not at the U.S., but at transnational corporations which have no regard to this country, its workers, or its environment. In fact, Thomas Jefferson sounded an early alarm regarding corporate power when he wrote, "I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country."
For more on corporate tyranny, I'd suggest:
The Corporation - which features Chomsky and many other important authors.
Unequal Protection: The Rise of Corporate Dominance and the Theft of Human Rights - by the prolific author and Air America radio host, Thom Hartmann. Hartmann is making life miserable for corportist warmongers like Limbaugh and Hannity.
Tocqueville wrote how in American democracy the majority is king. It controls the legislature, major offices, media, business. And if it doesn't want to hear something critical, it has the power to not listen. There is no regular forum where the majority can be exposed to serious criticism. And Noam Chomsky is trying to point out that "the majority has no clothes". So when he criticizes the media for excluding serious left-wing criticism of foreign policy, I can understand how his voice is drowned out in the dull roar of the stadium.
I don't agree with many of Mr. Chomsky's views. I'm non-partisan. But what I found striking was that there were points where Mr. Chomsky and I agree. He's a fervent advocate of democracy. So am I. I think American democracy is in a sad, sorry state of dysfunction. He does too. Mr. Chomsky writes "... our electoral system, our political system, has been driven to such a low level that issues are completely marginalized". And I agree that politics today rarely deals with issues, but focuses on style and packaging and sound-bite appeals. Mr. Chomsky sees President Barack Obama as a packaged commodity, avoiding issues, with no discernible position on issues, and this is consistent with my take on the campaign record as well, although I'm sincerely impressed with President Obama's excellent book "The Audacity of Hope". Mr. Chomsky notes that only 5% to 10% of congressional seats are contested each election which is a clear sign for me that the rules have been rigged in favor of incumbents. This is consistent with academics like Benjamin Ginsberg, author of "The American Lie". There is a growing chorus of sharp critics who have pointed out serious flaws with American politics, including Dana Nelson's powerful "Bad for Democracy" in which she argues that Americans have ceded their political influence to merely voting for president, and makes a powerful case that the presidency is, itself, an undemocratic institution.
Mr. Chomsky feels the US is an outlaw state; if Saddam Hussein was wrong to invade Kuwait, the US was even more wrong to invade Iraq in the second Gulf war. He sees the second US invasion of Iraq as violating international law. He sides with the Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and criticizes the Bush II administration as hypocritical because it advocated democracy, then changed course when a radical Palestinian faction, Hamas, came to power through democratic means. He decries Israel's sneaky tactics such as assassinations and abductions while criticizing Palestinian responses, such as rocket attacks by Hamas militants; overall, he sides with the Palestinians in the dispute. He feels Israel is "cantonizing" Palestine.
Much of the book addresses US foreign policy towards Latin America. One chapter is titled provocatively "stirrings in the servants quarters". And I think the idea of Latin nations as America's "servants" is rather presumptious, although one could build a case that the interaction between the US and Latin America is somewhat asymetrical in favor of the US. He feels the US is genuinely bothered by the specter of democracy in Latin America since true democracy -- that is, a left-wing workers' rights variant of democracy in his view -- will hurt America's access to South American oil. And there may be some validity to this view. He writes "Democracy is fine as long as you do what we say, but not if you vote for someone we don't like." I think there's a deeper distinction underlying the term "democracy" which doesn't fully emerge in this book -- an ideological division into what I call HAVES and HAVE-NOTS (or what Thomas Sowell might call the "constrained" and "unconstrained" visions) -- so that it's possible to have a capitalist-leaning democracy (what Bush might like) and a socialist-leaning democracy (what Chomsky might like). And Mr. Chomsky is a HAVE-NOT. No doubt about that.
In some respects, Chomsky is a pragmatist, a realist seeing two dominant principles as guiding most foreign policy: first, big countries push around smaller ones; second, merchants and manufacturers must be "attended to", meaning that capitalist considerations drive much of world politics. I think it's more complex than this, but these considerations are definitely factors. This is how a left-leaning partisan might see world politics. He sees American foreign policy as evil; I see it as incompetent, conflicted, confused. He gave credence to Hugo Chavez, the left-leaning Venezuelan president and critic of America, and feels the media didn't cover Chavez fairly in his speeches at the United Nations, and often tags Chavez for being a dictator when, in fact, he was elected peacefully. I think Chomsky doesn't build a solid case for his view that nations which observed the neo-liberal rules (and what are these rules exactly -- it's not clear) stagnated, while nations which broke the supposed rules, such as China and Taiwan, prospered; clearly, I think there's much more to their prosperity than this one dimension. He sees nothing wrong with Venezuela using its oil wealth to help out poor folks in America via the Citgo brand of gasoline -- it's just buying influence. And there's nothing wrong with Cuban doctors fixing the eyesight of blind Jamaicans. These are public relations tools which nations use. He wonders whether Bush's verbal mistakes were faked to endear him to ordinary folks like Texas voters.
Overall, an interesting critique of American foreign policy, particularly towards the Middle East and Latin America, during the Bush II years, from a left-leaning thinker. While I don't agree with many of his positions, I believe Mr. Chomsky deserves a wider audience and more serious attention.
Thomas W. Sulcer
Author of "The Second Constitution of the United States"
(free on web; google title + Sulcer)
His title comes from a speech by George Bush senior in 1991, when he said that the main principle of his new world order was, `what we say goes'. In eight interviews conducted in 2006 and 2007, Chomsky and radio journalist David Barsamian cover matters including the US state, the Middle East, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the rise of democracy in Latin America.
Chomsky cites a Pentagon document that recommended an information strategy including: "Diversion: list of interesting declassified material - i.e. Kennedy assassination data", for `providing good faith distraction material'. He suggests that conspiracy theories are there to distract people from real struggles.
In January 2007, Chomsky said, "there is a housing bubble that somehow overcame the collapse of the stock bubble. If the housing bubble bursts, it could turn out to be very serious."
He shows how the US state has fostered Islamic fundamentalism by supporting Saudi Arabia, `the most extreme fundamentalist tyranny in the world' - and also the US state's oldest ally in the Middle East.
He shows the continuity of imperial rule over Latin America. In 1907, the British empire's rulers instigated a massacre of a thousand workers in Iquique, Chile. He points out, "Right through the Clinton years, Colombia was by far the leading recipient of U.S. aid, and also had by far the worst human rights record in Latin America."
He shows how the biggest divide in the USA is not between North and South, or black and white, but between the capitalist state and the American people. In every opinion poll, a majority of Americans favour a national health service, more spending on education and welfare, and less spending on war. On Iran, 75% of the American people think that the USA should end military threats and turn to diplomacy. Two-thirds of the American people want to re-establish ties with Cuba.
Chomsky says that the national interest is `a mystical term', but although the capitalist class and its state naturally claim that their minority interests are the national interest, the real national interest is always a nation's people.
Chomsky's arguments are well reasoned. It is NOT propaganda or conspiracy theories, but critical thinking in the most pure sense. His knowledge of current events and history is deep. And while presented as a series of question-answer interviews, there are references provided to fact-check everything he says.
Chomsky talks about elections in America, and how we're electing people based on image and you never hear about issues. I think the most profound point he makes is that, overwhelmingly, polls of American people show that politics do not follow what their own popular opinion is saying. Did you know we're establishing permanent military bases in Iraq? I certainly didn't, and don't think it bodes well for us getting out of there any time soon.
Other gems? The United States instigates revolutions (e.g. the Pinochet coup in Chile on 9/11/1973). We give financial aid to support tyrants in countries with horrible human rights violations (Columbia, Saudi Arabia). Today we're so afraid of Iran developing the bomb, when we gave them our nuclear engineers from MIT (for a price, of course!)
Chomsky discusses the recent U.S.-Israel unprovoked attacks against Lebanon. There's many mentions of the United Nations, and how we completely ignore their laws. He cuts through the underlying assumption in popular media that we can do as we please. For instance, U.S. newspapers' absurd claims that Iran is "interfering in Iraq," when Iran is doing something as benign as opening a bank (pp 101).
These U.S. aggressions are definitely fueling terrorism (a big point made in the The 9/11 Commission Report, but an idea that is given no media coverage). Do we have any justification for attacking Iraq? They unequivocally did NOT have "Weapons of Mass Destruction," and had nothing to do with the September 11 terrorist attacks (please again refer to the 9/11 Commission Report).
If you consider yourself an educated citizen, this book may change your mind.